China rejects US invite for defence chiefs meeting at Singapore summit: ‘Concerning unwillingness’

Rejection will ‘fray regional nerves even further’, says Singapore-based security analyst

Arpan Rai
Tuesday 30 May 2023 13:29 BST
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<p>Chinese defence minister Li Shangfu attends the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in New Delhi</p>

Chinese defence minister Li Shangfu attends the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in New Delhi

China has rejected a US request seeking a meeting between the defence chiefs of the two countries at an annual security summit to be held in Singapore – in a signal that the ties between the two superpowers show no signs of thawing.

Washington had issued an invite for talks between US defence secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu in early May at the upcoming Shangri-La defence summit.

“Overnight, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] informed the US that they have declined our early May invitation for secretary Austin to meet with PRC minister of national defence Li Shangfu in Singapore,” Pentagon spokesperson General Pat Ryder said during the US Memorial Day holiday, reported the Wall Street Journal.

“The PRC’s concerning unwillingness to engage in meaningful military-to-military discussions will not diminish [the Defence Department’s] commitment to seeking open lines of communication with the People’s Liberation Army,” he was quoted as saying in the report.

The Pentagon said it believes in open communication “to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict”.

This comes a few days after White House spokesperson John Kirby hinted about the Defence Department’s outreach for talks between Mr Austin and his Chinese counterpart, who took the office in March as the country’s new defence minister.

However, he is among several Chinese officials sanctioned by the US in the past. He was added to the list in 2018 over charges of violating US sanctions by allegedly aiding the transfer of Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 air-defence missile systems to China from Russia.

The anticipated meeting between the two nations was being closely watched in the backdrop of a spike in regional security tensions and growing trade disputes which have derailed chances of re-engagement by the world’s two largest economies.

Analysts said the diplomatic snub to the US does not bode well.

“At a time of rising US-China tensions, General Li’s refusal to meet his American counterpart will fray regional nerves even further,” Singapore-based security analyst Ian Storey said.

The two leaders will, however, be present in Singapore to attend the dialogue that is scheduled to begin on Friday, as defence officials and analysts will gather around for informal talks and take part in several side meetings.

Mr Li and Mr Austin will likely hold bilateral meetings with counterparts from around the region.

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